- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- With another case garnering national interest involving a white police officer taking the lives of African-American citizens occurring in LeBron James' home state, the Cleveland Cavaliers star found himself addressing more than just basketball after practice Saturday.
Earlier in the day, Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault for the 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams by a Cuyahoga County judge. Thirteen police officers fired 137 shots at Russell and Williams, who were both unarmed, at the conclusion of a high-speed car chase.
Three to four dozen demonstrators assembled outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in peaceful protest Saturday morning following the release of the Brelo verdict, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
James echoed his December statements, urging Clevelanders not to escalate the situation through violence and destruction.
"Violence is not the answer, and it's all about trying to find a solution for good or for bad," James said Saturday. "For me, in any case, anything that goes on in our world or in our America, the only people that we should be worried about [are] the families that's lost loved ones. You can't get them back. You can never get them back. We should worry about the families and how they're doing and things of that nature."
James then leaned on the civic pride associated with the Cavs' playoff run as a hopeful outlet to pull Cleveland-area residents together in light of the Brelo news.
"For the city of Cleveland, let's use our excitement or whatever passion that we have for our sport tomorrow for the game tomorrow night, bring [the passion] to the game tomorrow night, and as our team, we'll try to do our best to give it back to them," James said.
The Cavaliers host the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Cleveland also found itself in the middle of the national conversation about police brutality and racial profiling in the fall following the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a white police officer.
James has deep ties to the Northeast Ohio community, writing in an essay with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins last summer that this connection was the primary reason he left the Miami Heat as a free agent and signed with the Cavs again.
"I feel my calling here goes above basketball," James wrote. "I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there's no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get."
"Anything that goes on in our world or in our America, the only people that we should be worried about [are] the families that's lost loved ones. You can't get them back. You can never get them back. We should worry about the families and how they're doing and things of that nature."
LeBron James, reflecting on Saturday's not guilty verdict for Michael Brelo
James believes that the success of the Cavs is something the entire Cleveland community can latch on to, even in the midst of the turmoil springing from the Brelo verdict.
"I think sports in general, no matter what city it is," James said. "Something that's going through a city that's very dramatic, traumatizing or any of that case, I think sports is one of the biggest healers in helping a city out.
"Sports just does something to people. Either if you're a player, you're a fan, you just have something that has anything to do with that city, you just feel a certain way about rooting for a team that you love. And it can get your mind off some of the hardships that may be going on throughout your life or in that particular time and period. It just does that."
James did not offer a specific opinion about whether he felt the Brelo decision was just, saying he wanted to gather more information about the case before speaking his mind.
"Obviously I'm going to take a look at it and read up on it, and if I get more knowledge about it, then I may give a statement, I may say something," he said.
For now, James would comment only on the kinship he feels with the Cleveland community.
"I know my position, I know my power, I know my responsibility," James said. "I take it very seriously. So whatever ways I'm able to affect anyone's lives for the greater good, I'm blessed and I'm happy I'm able to do that, and I don't take it for granted."
LeBron James addressed more than just basketball after practice Saturday, discussing another case garnering national interest involving a white police officer taking the life of black citizens.